Delaying Cable Networks' Commercial Ratings

Cable networks have opted out of the Nielsen test of commercials ratings. But are they just delaying the inevitable?

Cable networks already run too many commercials, and despite the problems of commercial measurement, the outcome seems to be that they will fare worse than syndication or broadcast..

Strategically, it all makes sense that the cable networks would want to hold off. Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development at NBC Universal, said succinctly: "Would you like someone to be talking about you when it is completely inaccurate?  People are human beings. Once they get a number, they have a number."

Compound this with the current mediocre advertising marketplace, and who can blame the cable networks? The last two years of the upfront market for cable has shown that its typical double digit percent growth rates on its cost per thousand viewers have been dwindling.



Cable networks' opting out won't stop the flow of data. Everyone gets commercial ratings. If you have Nielsen's N Power service, you can figure out exactly where cable is. Media agencies and networks have been doing this for years.  The data shows that broadcast commercials are about 3% to 5% below their respective program ratings; meanwhile, cable commercials are about 8% to 12% below their respective program ratings.

The bottom line is that cable won't be helping anyone out in this regard. So NBC will wait, as will a number of other networks, including MTV Networks, Discovery Networks, and ESPN.

But will that just delay the inevitable? As reported in a MediaDailyNews story today, results from a TNS analysis found that the biggest cable networks run many more commercials in a given pod than syndication or broadcast. That analysis seems to suggest this: the more commercials, the lower the average rating per commercial.

Still, Nielsen does have a problem analyzing cable commercials. You can understand cable's concern over accuracy. Wurtzel said: "Bad numbers are worse than no numbers."

Nielsen does measurement for some 70 cable networks. So there is a lot of bad out there when it comes to commercial ratings. How bad?  Cable doesn't want to know just yet.

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